MELBOURNE (Reuters) – New Zealand recovery teams returned to the volcanic White Island on Sunday but were unable to locate two remaining bodies in their search, the police said.
FILE PHOTO: Rescue crew are seen at the White Island volcano, also known by its Maori name Whakaari, in New Zealand, December 13, 2019, in this image obtained via social media. New Zealand Defence Force/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
Authorities said eight police search and rescue staff were deployed for 75 minutes to an area in which their information suggested one body may remain.
“I can say we have found no further bodies in that area,” Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement said at a press conference on Sunday.
Police said they remained committed to recovering the two bodies and that police and military divers were continuing to scour the waters around the island.
“Everyone went out there absolutely desperate to find bodies and return them to loved ones,” Clement said.
On Saturday, divers faced contaminated waters and low visibility as they searched the sea surrounding the volcanic island.
On Friday, six bodies were successfully retrieved from the island by a New Zealand military team and taken to the mainland for disaster victim identification.
The volcano, a popular destination for day-trippers, erupted on Monday, spewing ash, steam and gases over the island. Among the 47 people on the island at the time were Australian, U.S., German, Chinese, British and Malaysian tourists.
The death toll rose to 15 on Saturday as one more person died in the hospital. The toll may rise further as more than two dozen people are still hospitalized across New Zealand and Australia, most with severe burn injuries.
Police on Saturday began formally releasing the names and nationalities of those killed, with 21-year-old Australian Krystal Browitt the first person identified.
On Sunday, police also released the names of New Zealand’s Tipene Maangi and Australians Zoe Hosking, Gavin Dallow and Anthony Langford.
There has been criticism that tourists were allowed on the island at all, given signs of increasing tremor activity in the days before the eruption.
A minute’s silence will be observed in New Zealand on Monday, December 16 at 2.11 p.m. local time (0111 GMT), exactly one week from when the fatal eruption occurred.
Reporting by Will Ziebell; Editing by David Gregorio